Jon Holmes: 'I have never looked for my birth mum, it would seem a disservice to my parents'
Radio star Jon Holmes' memoir about growing up in the Eighties is full of laughs, but he reveals a more serious side as he reflects on being adopted.
You might not recognise his face, but chances are you'll know Jon Holmes' voice. As a presenter on BBC Radio 4's The Now Show, alongside Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt, as well as XFM's London breakfast show, he's heard daily in millions of homes - and his fame apparently extends to some far-flung places.
A woman in the queue at a hire car place in Italy recognised his voice, and then there was the hermit Hugh Dennis met.
"Hugh was filming some kind of travel programme, which involved him being at the top of a remote mountain in China or somewhere, and after a lengthy trek to the top of the world, he and the crew came across a hermit's hut," recalls Holmes (46), whose stature (5ft 4in) is often the butt of jokes on Radio 4's satirical show.
"They asked him for an interview and he relented when told it was Hugh Dennis, to whom the hermit had listened on his radio via (presumably) the World Service. The hermit's first question, at the top of his distant, mystical mountain: 'How tall Jon Holmes'?"
Fans of The Now Show will be familiar with his cheeky-chappie quick wit, but there's a more controversial side to his comedy, which once saw him fired from a late-night slot on Virgin Radio (the station was fined a record £75,000 for his "Swearing Radio Hangman for the Under-12s").
The two are paired brilliantly in his new autobiography, A Portrait Of An Idiot As A Young Man: Part Memoir, Part Explanation As To Why Men Are So Rubbish.
Praised by Miranda Hart as "Caitlin Moran meets The Inbetweeners", it's a masterclass in comedy writing, from somebody who's penned jokes for impressionist Jon Culshaw and Graham Norton, worked with Armando Iannucci and won a bevy of Sony and Bafta Awards.
It's also about to be on the reading list at his mum's church, back home in Nuneaton.
"The vicar is a fan of The Now Show and he heard about the book," explains Holmes, when we meet over curry to discuss it. It's mostly a warts-and-all account of a teenage boy in 1980s Britain, including such gems as pages of dirty mags being left in hedgerows by the "porn fairy" and what the church youth group really got up to.
"I thought, 'I can't let my mum read this', but then the vicar goes and recommends it for the church book group! I go, 'No mum, you have to stop that happening'. The idea of a bunch of pensioners sitting round discussing this, based in their own church, given what happens in the book - I don't think so! I'm actually thinking of pulling the publication altogether for that simple reason."
The book details everything from Holmes' irrational fear of spiders, to the time he got kicked out of an extravagant Tory bash for ranting at Margaret Thatcher (he thinks), all enticingly introduced with chapter titles like, "Six: In which I sit in a bin."
He also writes poignantly (and hilariously) about becoming a dad to daughter Isla in 2010 - he and his wife have another daughter, Maisie, three, and live in Canterbury; he commutes to London at 3am every morning - and reveals he was adopted.
He says it's never really been an issue though, "because my parents made it feel so normal".
His biological mother, as far as Holmes knows, was 16 when she fell pregnant and travelled to a mother and baby home in Stratford-upon-Avon to give birth.
He's not sure his biological father ever knew about him.
"I'm speculating, but she was probably forced to put me up for adoption, because having got pregnant at 16 would have brought shame on the family in the late Sixties.
"I was given some clothes that she knitted for me and the teddy bear that I still have, which I've given to my daughters. When I first found that out, I found it incredibly moving. I was very teary," he admits.
He's never tried to track down his birth parents. "I have a curiosity, but it's not something I dwell on.
"I think maybe my mum has heard me on the radio and wouldn't know. She might listen to Radio 4 every week and just go, 'Oh that's that bloke who's on The Now Show'; what a weird thing that must be for her if she was to find out."
He also doesn't want to offend his adoptive parents, nurse Dorothy and builder Leslie.
"Even though they've said to me on countless occasions, 'We are fully behind you if you want to find them', it feels like too big a disservice to my parents. Does it send a message saying, 'You didn't do quite well enough, so I need some other parents' - and I'm frightened of that."
It wasn't all fun and games growing up; in the early Eighties, his dad lost his business and family home, when hardwood he was importing from Canada to build a church quadrupled in price.
"I knew things were bad because there were tears and stuff. I knew my dad had stuff like diggers and dumper trucks and they weren't there any more, so I knew something bad had happened."
The family (now four because his parents had adopted his sister, Kelda) all moved in with his Nana: "We lived for six to nine months in her tiny bungalow."
Eventually, his parents bought a derelict house, a two-up, two-down that was so overgrown, his dad had to scythe the front garden for them to reach the front door.
"It was horrific, there was no central heating, no bathroom inside, rubble and soot all over the floor.
But my dad is a builder, so that's what he did. They still live there now. They've expanded it up and down, so now it's four bedrooms."
Now Holmes has children of his own, his respect for his parents has grown and his perspective altered - he jokes he's never going to let his daughters read his book and, knowing what he was like as a teen, swears: "They'll never meet boys!"
As Caitlin Moran's memoir How To Be A Woman was adapted into TV series Raised By Wolves, based on her upbringing in Wolverhampton, it's tempting to imagine a show based on A Portrait Of An Idiot. But Holmes is less enthusiastic.
"It would be interesting to see how they'd put some of that on screen. I thought Raised By Wolves was a great portrait of the time in Wolverhampton.
"But if there's ever a pitch in a meeting, 'I can do for Nuneaton what Caitlin Moran did for Wolverhampton', I can hear the sound of executive TV doors closing in my face!"
- A Portrait Of An Idiot As A Young Man by Jon Holmes, Orion Books, £12.99